Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Soccer in the Heat of the Afternoon

The late afternoon was heavy and still, letting on nothing of the frigid morning air that had dissipated with the rising of the sun in the winter sky. Dust hung lazily in the air, stirred up by the passing trucks on the adjacent dejected dirt road. All was calm as learners studied quietly in their classrooms, but there was a hushed anticipation in the air. As the bell rang, signifying the end of study, learners herded out of the classrooms, swarming to the soccer field, abuzz with excitement at the pending soccer match: teachers vs teachers, Shaanika Nashilongo vs Etaleleko, a potent rivalry within the northern Namibian town of Okahao.

As the time of the match neared, and learners had formed a complete boundary around the perimeter of the uneven dirt field, the teachers took the field. Learners laughed and shouted with glee at the sight of their favourite teachers donning shorts and inside-out team t-shirts, a sharp contrast to their formal school attire. Both teams were composed of all males, each with only one female player aside. Miss Jennifer, of Shaanika Nashilongo SS – undeservingly dubbed
Ronaldo in an early school advertisement for the event – generated a great deal of excitement, standing out as both the only white player on the field, and the home team’s token female. Teachers of all ages and fitness levels laced up for the match. Kaka! Ronaldo! Messy! Pele! cheers could be heard from all sides, as learners cheered on and provoked their teachers endearingly with the names of football greats. The teachers laughed obligingly and played along, enjoying the amusement of their spectators.

The buzzing died down as teachers took to their positions, and abruptly returned in a roar as the ball was touched and the game was in play. With every kick, pass, misstep or stumble from either side, shrieks of laughter, applause or shouting erupted from the sidelines. Shouts in both English and Oshiwambo were indecipherable.

They lady is going to be a problem! An Etaleleko defender shouted good-naturedly to his teammates after Jennifer made a rush down the right wing.
The only problem, Jennifer thought to herself, sweating from both the heat and exertion, is the fact that we are fifteen minutes in and already I’m tired.

The game progressed at an honest pace for the next thirty minutes, with Shaanika Nashilongo applying serious pressure on the Etaleleko net, yet halftime found the game scoreless.
Jennifer substituted off during the second half, for Meme Mahata, a large and jovial woman who worked in the hostel kitchen. The crowd roared with pleasure as they saw her take the field.

Shortly after the commencement of the second half Shaanika midfielder Joseph Kandjinga scored, spawning shrieks and cheers from all sides of the field. Shaanika maintained control through most of the second half, with many good chances, until near the end of the game when Mr. Festus Kandjala unleashed a cannon of a shot top-corner to clinch the game at two nil in favour of the home team. At the concluding whistle learners and teacher spectators alike rushed the field, amassing in the centre jumping, shaking hands, hugging, laughing and singing in pandemonium. The excitement was tangible. Learners and teachers alike celebrated together as comrades, something rarely seen in the strict school environments of northern Namibia.

As spectators and players alike filtered off the field, retiring for their evening meal the field became barren once again, with only the dust that loitered ponderously in the air left to attest to the compelling match that had ended only moments earlier.